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Fostering Government and Community Ownership for an Integrated Women’s Health Care in Northern Nigeria through the WISH Project

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18 May 2021

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The women's Integrated Services for Health (WISH) project is implemented in 13 states across Northern Nigeria since 2018. It is leading the way in breaking down barriers to women's access to sexual and reproductive health services and significantly empowering more women with reproductive choice. As of March 2021, a total of 1.4 million marginalised and hard to reach family planning users have been served, with 30% of clients under the age of 20 and a couple of year of protection (CYP) of 6.1 million delivered. As a result of these services, 2.8 million unintended pregnancies, 1.3 million unsafe abortions and 16,000 maternal deaths have been averted.

These were made known at the WISH Project Update meeting with stakeholders from the 13 WISH states and the National held in Abuja on Tuesday 11th May 2021 at the Grand Pella Hotel, Abuja. It was a hybrid of both virtual and onsite participation in observance of the COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Key stakeholders including, Commissioners of Health, members of the legislative arm, permanent secretaries from ministries of health, traditional leaders etc., gathered in clusters from their respective states and joined the meeting via zoom from the 13 states, namely Gombe, Bauchi, Taraba, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Sokoto, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Kano, Zamfara and Benue.

Women’s Integrated Services for Health (WISH) is a British Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) now Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) flagship project implemented to support Nigeria’s progress towards universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).  WISH is designed to achieve its objective through a combination of direct service provision, public sector health support and services strengthening and addressing demand-side barriers to service uptake. It also would create an enabling environment for SRH services through improving policies, financing, and commodity security.

Speaking during the Project Update Meeting, the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, highlighted the pivotal importance of investing in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents, women, girls, and men. He noted that such investments have a profound and lasting impact on the social-economic wellbeing of the target groups and national growth and development. The Minister, represented by Dr Morenike Alex-Okoh, commended Marie Stopes International Organization Nigeria (MSION) and all Consortium Partners on the WISH Project. These include the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), Options, Ipas and ThinkPlace for supporting the government of Nigeria in sustaining sexual and reproductive health service delivery during the COVID lockdown period and even now.

Also speaking, the Director of Family Health at the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Ibrahim Salma, represented by the Director Reproductive Health, Dr Kayode Afolabi, explained that the success of the WISH project is the result of collaborative work done by all stakeholders. These include government, traditional leaders, communities, civil society organisations and the WISH partners. He, therefore, encouraged more collaborations with these stakeholders and the sustainability of already existing ones.

Speaking on behalf of the consortium partners, Effiom Nyong Effiom, Country Director, Marie Stopes International Organisation Nigeria (MSION) thanked the Federal and State Ministries of Health for the roles they played in the project implementation.

He noted that "since inception in August 2018 till date, the Federal Ministry of Health has demonstrated effective collaboration with partners of the WISH Project. The unwavering willingness of the government and other key stakeholders at all levels to ensure community participation and national ownership of the project is pivotal to the amazing achievements in the past 33 months of implementation. And "It is on this premise that we are here today to provide an update on the progress made so far and to foster fruitful deliberations that will lead to consolidating the gains of the project".

The Gombe state Commissioner for Health Dr Habu Dahiru commended the project partners for the impact of the WISH project saying, "the work done has increased uptake of contraceptives in the state as Family planning services have gone up from 4% to 17% while the number of unplanned pregnancies has reduced".

The Katsina state Commissioner for Health Eng. Yakubu Nuhu Danja, represented by the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health, Dr Kabir Mustapha, acknowledged the growth in family planning service uptake in the state since the commencement of the WISH project. He noted that the health education provided through the service delivery points has helped change the narrative to a progressive increase in service uptake.

Representing the Sokoto Emirate Council at the event, Sarkin Yakin Gaji stated that a lot has been achieved in Sokoto state through the concerted efforts of the government, the traditional leadership, and the WISH partners in engaging the traditional institution in demand creation and in mobilising communities to take up sexual and reproductive health services. He explained that this is important to have a productive population, where parents have children that can be adequately catered for. Stating that "family planning is a human right; every couple has the right to contraception and… we need to be mobilizing our communities to access these services".

The WISH project is implemented in Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Sokoto, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Kano, Zamfara and Benue with additional social marketing/sales outlets in other states which include Rivers, Cross River, Lagos, Edo, Kwara, Anambra, Abia, Enugu, Kaduna and FCT. WISH was projected to achieve 670,000 additional users, avert 1,043,500 unsafe abortions, avert 1,213,200 unwanted pregnancies, and prevent 9,700 maternal deaths. The results presented to stakeholders show that the project has surpassed all milestones and made a significant impact in the lives of women and communities across project locations.

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